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La Carafe Housed in the oldest commercial building in town, La Carafe exudes history. The jukebox plays no small part in this process -- stocked as it is with Clifton Chenier, Benny Goodman and Lady Day -- and so do the candles behind the bar resting atop mountains of their own melted wax. The brick walls are covered with photos and paintings of the city in bygone days and even one of the city's namesake -- the museum-worthy collection is dominated by a huge portrait of Sam Houston himself. 813 Congress, 713-229-9399.
Lance's Turtle ClubBuilt on a barge and accessed by a gangplank, this wooden floating party palace is the vision of a popular beer ad come to life. All summer long, it's the place where powerboats rumble up to deposit guests or merely troll by to give patrons an eyeful of the captain's rippling pecs while young ladies in teensy thongs linger along the bow. Everything from classic rock to blues to Parrothead fare graces the stage here on weekends. 2613 NASA Rd. 1, 281-326-7613.
Last Concert CafeYou still have to knock three times on the red door to gain entry to this former bordello in the Warehouse District. A little slice of heaven for hippie types and drum circle junkies, the indoor-outdoor Mexican restaurant/venue is quite possibly the most eclectic concert spot in town. Reggae, world beat, blues and rock in all its colors (though very often of the jam band hue) can be showcased here on any given night, under the stars and away from the traffic of downtown and the Richmond Strip. Think Woodstock meets Emo's in Europe. 1403 Nance, 713-226-8563.
Leon's Lounge The oldest continually operating bar downtown and arguably in the city, Leon's has more character than your crazy uncle who ran off to join the circus. Antique crystal chandeliers hang over the long mahogany bar, which competes for space in the long and narrow front room with a shuffleboard set. Behind the bar is a game room dominated by a small pool table and several stuffed critters harvested by the owner's family on hunting trips. In back is the newest addition: a piano bar. Most of the clientele have been sipping their Busch tallboys undisturbed here for years, so expect a little gruffness from the regulars when you go. And take your soap and shampoo along -- the men's room near the pool table has a shower. 1006 McGowen, 713-659-3052.
Licor LoungeThis bright danceteria in the bottom of the building that once housed Homage/Red Square looks like something that might appear in a Stanley Kubrick film. A colorful decor that centers on a bright white theme flows throughout one room, which is broken up wonderfully by various bars, benches and blocks raised here and there for either sitting or dancing. It's almost like a playground more than a dance club -- and it works. The music is great, too, falling in line with downtown/Midtown's affinity for house but throwing in a few pop gems here and there. No cover, reasonable drinks and accessible parking. 2204 Louisiana, 713-654-0869.
The LimeliteMan, oh man, what a difference a few couches, a new paint job and some photos of the Rat Pack on a wall can make to an old watering hole. Originally the Union Station Tavern, the bar has now turned itself into The Limelite, an upscale spot nestled among the bail bond offices and corner convenience stores around the ballpark once known as Enron Field. If the rest of NoDo becomes too crowded on the weekends, there's a classy little dive for you on Prairie. 1207 Prairie, 713-223-2100.
Live! Sports CafeDowntown eatery by day, another vibrant dance club on the weekend nights. What serves as a home for the Houston Astros' talk show Astroline each Wednesday has also become a weekend hot spot. This is likely due in no small part to a great balcony that overlooks Main and Prairie in one of the more open areas of downtown. Techno and house occupy the sound system, while multiple levels spread out the patrons and even out the vibe. Karaoke takes place on Fridays, and live bands appear on select nights. Nothing special about the drinks, but the location cancels out all else, and the view is hard to beat. 407 Main, 713-228-5483.
Lizzard's PubThere's a decidedly homey feel about this place, especially when you venture into the smaller back rooms with their old, worn plush sofas and walls covered in dated wood paneling. One cozy backroom nook sports a curious nude painting that inevitably raises questions and all sorts of drunken musings. Who is she? Did people really look like her once upon a time? Do you think she's dead by now? Drink specials vary in this neighborhood bar, and the faces are always friendly. If you don't know anybody going in, you're likely to leave having met some chatty character brimming with local color. 2717 Sackett, 713-529-4610.
The Lone Star Saloon 102 S. Third St., Richmond.
Lone Star SaloonThis venerable downtown dive is home to a bar, a pool table, a country/classic rock jukebox and not much else, and that's okay. The clientele is primarily blue-collar, the beer is cheap and very cold, the shots are stiff, and it opens early in the afternoon. What the hell else do you need to get your drink on? A Golden Tee machine? And now you can get your drink outside -- they've just added a brand-new deck. 1900 Travis, 713-757-1616.
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